Our Opinion

It is imperative that the Columbia River Crossing project continue to move forward in a timely, effective and cost-efficient way that ultimately will produce an Interstate 5 bridge to meet the region's needs.

We believe that Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire are ready to make a forceful decision by choosing a composite deck truss bridge, a functional design similar to Portland's Marquam Bridge. In doing so, the governors would wisely forgo two more artful and expensive bridge types: the tied-arch design and cable-stayed design.

Today (Thursday, March 10), public meetings are being held in Portland and Vancouver, Wash., to gather public input on the three bridge-design concepts and other Columbia River Crossing considerations. By mid-March, the Oregon and Washington departments of transportation will make recommendations to their governors.

Community support required

For the public - and local government officials - to be effective in influencing the design of the crossing, we suggest that their comments directly address the criteria that the two governors have outlined as their selection test: keeping the project affordable and on schedule; minimizing environmental effects; limiting the project's impact on the riverbed; selecting a design that can be built with low risk; and choosing a project design that will attract many competitive bids.

We offer two more criteria: ensuring long-term public safety at the Columbia River Crossing and arriving at overall community acceptance of the crossing's design.

Without overall community support for this project, we believe U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington will be proven correct in saying that federal support will disappear.

So how will general community acceptance be achieved?

Frankly, it will require advocates for certain specific issues - such as bike and pedestrian accessibility, mass transit, neighborhood concerns, freight mobility or architectural design - to say specifically how their desires or requirements will help meet the criteria the governors have established. But these advocates also must be prepared to compromise. Such a willingness to compromise must extend to local leaders, including Portland Mayor Sam Adams, who has steadfastly favored a more iconic bridge design - or possibly no new bridge at all.

Compromise will be needed

Without reasonable compromise, general community support will not be achieved. Murray's warning will come true: The federal government will walk away, and little to nothing will get done that makes a difference at the Interstate 5 crossing over the Columbia. That means the crossing will remain as it is: almost a century old, a freight and commuter bottleneck, unsafe, poorly served by mass transit and unwelcoming and dangerous for pedestrians and bike riders. And meanwhile, neighborhoods in Portland and Vancouver that would be helped by Columbia River Crossing improvements will not see such upgrades.

So we ask: Can advocates set priorities and agree to compromise? If they do, can Kitzhaber and Gregoire achieve their essential project priorities by finding creative and cost-effective ways to say 'yes' to some of the additional improvements being advocated?

For example, is a tied-arch bridge design the only design that can provide an iconic architectural view? We think not. Can, for example, architectural lighting and steel design elements be used to make a deck truss bridge appear more attractive than the decidedly unappealing Marquam Bridge? We have seen designs of such bridges in Minneapolis and several international cities that prove this can happen.

The Oregon and Washington governors, working with these various bridge advocates, must find ways to move forward firmly and achieve immediate progress for the crossing project.

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